This article reviews the current understanding of memory system anatomy and physiology, as well as relevant evaluation methods and pathologic processes.
Our understanding of memory formation advances each year. Successful episodic memory formation depends not only on intact medial temporal lobe structures but also on well-orchestrated interactions with other large-scale brain networks that support executive and semantic processing functions. Recent discoveries of cognitive control networks have helped in understanding the interaction between memory systems and executive systems. These interactions allow access to past experiences and enable comparisons between past experiences and external and internal information. The semantic memory system is less clearly defined anatomically. Anterior, lateral, and inferior temporal lobe regions appear to play a crucial role in the function of the semantic processing system. Different but tightly interconnected cortical regions, such as the prefrontal region, may play a controlling role in this system. The presentation of clinical disease affecting memory is the result of the selective vulnerability of the memory system. An understanding of current concepts of memory anatomy, physiology, and evaluation plays a central role in establishing an accurate diagnosis.
Different memory systems rely on separate but overlapping distributed brain networks. Certain pathologic processes preferentially affect memory systems. An understanding of memory formation stages will enable more accurate diagnosis.